04 November 2011

Fantastic Women (edited by Rob Spillman)

Fantastic Women collects eighteen stories originally printed in Tin House, all by women, and all, well, fantastical. Not in the dragon-and-wizard sense (though you know me, I’d never knock that sense): the stories are all weird like wyrd, like they’re being told to you by some half-human creature you had to go on a quest to even find, and it is very important you understand them, because the fate of the kingdom might be at stake. Here, have some examples: in Samantha Hunt’s “Beast,” a woman turns into a deer every night, and worries about how to tell her husband. In Karen Russell’s “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach,” a teenage boy living in the shadow of his much cooler brother begins to suspect that the titular birds are stealing pieces of the town’s future. Julia Slavin’s “Drive-Through House”—well, it’s in the title. And Kelly Link! A Kelly Link story I hadn’t read before ZOMFG!!! “Light” concerns a woman whose mother vacationed in a pocket universe when she was in utero (like you do), causing her to be born with two shadows, one of which eventually became her difficult brother.

So why is this a collection by women? Well, there’s the glib answer, “Cause men have all the rest of the anthologies,” but I will further say this: in my experience, women writers are often better than men at what I will term the domesticity of the surreal—the mixing of everyday human concerns with the outlandish and impossible, without losing emotional weight in the process. (Haruki Murakami is an outstanding male practitioner of this.) Almost all of these stories revolve around real relationships—with husbands, with siblings, with children—ordinary relationships that, when examined in depth, become every bit as unbelievable in their continued existence as any dragon, selkie, or alternate dimension.

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